Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

ENGLAND.] CROMWELL.

some scheme, to which it seemed improbable the parliament would agree, he insisted, and said, "My Lord, if you will stick firm to honest men, you shall find yourself at the head of an army which shall give law both to king and parliament." "This discourse," continued Manchester, "made the greater impression on me, because I knew the lieutenant-general to be a man of very deep designs; and he has even ventured to tell me, that it never would be well with England till I were Mr. Montague, and there were never a lord or peer in the kingdom." So full was Cromwell of these republican projects, that notwithstanding his habits of profound dissimulation, he could not so carefully guard his expressions, but that sometimes his favourite notions would escape him.

It may not be unnecessary to examine here how far this fanatical spirit, particularly in religious matters, was natural or assumed, and to notice the different lights in which Cromwell has been considered by historians. By some he has been drawn as a gloomy enthusiast, strongly embrued with all the bigotry of his times, and impelled by a sincere and devout abhorence of monarchy and the priesthood. His native sentiments, thus assimilating with the prejudices and opinions of his contemporaries, recommended him to their choice, and principally contributed to his unparalleled advancement. Others have represented him as a crafty and designing politician, artfully taking advantage of prejudices he despised, controuling, by his superior genius, the instability of fortune, and chalking out for himself the paths that lead to greatness. Upon an attentive review of every passage of his life, it will be found that neither of these portraits present him in his true light. In the early part of his career, it may be believed that he was sincere in the opinions he maintained; that independence, or rather perversion of principles, which he displayed both in religion and politics, was, Bo doubt, open and unaffected, at a time when he could not be supposed to foresee the splendid elevation which he afterwards attained. But when the course of events raised him to unexpected notice and estimation, and his mind became enlarged by a more liberal commerce with mankind, his natural sagacity discovered to him how easily he might govern others by the same enthusiasm by which he himself had been misled; and if he continued to use the same language, it was no longer from internal conviction, but as a convenient cover to his own ambition and deceit. The establishment of his own authority upon the ruin of that of the king, became the constant aim of his thoughts and actions; and the rigid principles and self-denying maxims of his youth readily gave way to the more imperious suggestions of private interest. But it is difficult to imagine that he had, from the beginning, pursued a premeditated plan to found his greatness on the credulity and enthusiasm of others. It is more agreeable to the narrowness of human views, more consistent with the uncertainty of futurity to suppose, that this daring usurper suffered himself to be guided by events, and that he was indebted for his power more to a favourable succession of circumstances, than to any miraculous gift of premature discernment or genius.

[graphic]

The defeat of the royal army at Naseby, while it established the authority of the parliament, increased the power and influence of Cromwell, to whose valour and conduct it was chiefly owing. But the power of the parliament was of short duration. No sooner had they subdued their sovereign, than their own servants rose against them. The sacred boundaries of the law being once violated, nothing remained to confine the wild projects of zeal and ambition, and every successive revolution became a precedent for that which followed it. The army mutinied; the generals, particularly Cromwell, secretly ENGLAND/) CROMWELL.

fomented those disorders which they pretended to appease. A military parliament was formed in opposition to that at Westminster. But Cromwell, whose dissimulation was how at its height, while he was thus establishing a new assembly of representatives, professed the utmost devotion to the old one. He conducted himself with such refined hypocrisy, that he deceived those, who, being themselves dexterous in the same arts, should naturally have entertained the more suspicions against him. At every comr plaint of disorders in the army, he affected to be moved to the highest pitch of grief and anger. He wept, he lamented the misfortunes of his country; he advised every violent measure for suppressing the mutiny; and by these precipitate counsels at once seemed to evincehis own sincerity, and inflamed those discontents of which he intended to take advantage. But his secret practices being at Length discovered, the parliamentary leaders secretly resolved that the next time he should come to the house, an accusation should be entered against him, and that he should be sent to the Tower. Cromwell, who in the conduct of his desperate enterprises, frequently approached to the very brink of destruction, knew how to make the requisite turn with proper boldness and dexterity. Being informed of this design, he hastened to the camp, where he was received with acclamations, and instantly invested with the supreme command.

Perhaps Cromwell, at this time, had it in his power to restore his sovereign to his lost authority; and it appears now to be generally believed, that a secret negociation to this effect was carried on between the king and him. The garter, the earldom of Essex, and the command of the army, were to be rewards of his returning loyalty. The king, who had no suspicion that one, born a private gentleman, could entertain the daring ambition of seeking a sceptre transmitted through a long line of monarchs, indulged the hope that he would embrace a measure which every motive of duty, interest, and safety so strongly enforced; and Cromwell himself might not be unwilling to leave the door open for an accommodation, should the course of events at any time render it necessary. But whether he suspected the king's sincerity, or that he found insuperable difficulty in reconciling the army to such a measure, it was soon dropt, and he continued his scheme for reducing the parliament to subjection, and of depriving them of the means of resistance. The imprudent flight of the king to the Isle of Wight, and his refusal to concede to all the demands of his revolted subjects, were so many incidents that justified Cromwell, in his own opinion, in following all the suggestions of his boundless ambition. Returning victorious from an expedition to Scotland, he marched to London, expelled the most moderate members of the parliament, a majority of whom might yet have saved the king, retained only the most furious and determined of the independants, and completed his iniquity by the trial and execution of his sovereign. Preserving to the last moment his impious and bare-faced hypocrisy—" Should any one," said he in the house, "have voluntarily proposed to bring the king to punishment, I should have regarded him as a traitor; but since Providence and necessity have cast us upon it, 1 will pray to God for a blessing on your counsels, though I am not prepared to give you any advice on this important occasion. Even I myself," added he, " when I was lately offering up petitions for his majesty's restoration, felt my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, and considered this preternatural movement as the answer which Heaven, having rejected the king, had sent to my supplications." At length he succeeded in his criminal design, and from a window of the palace, beheld the fatal stroke which deprived the unfortunate Charles of life, and prepared the way for his own usurped authority.

ENGlAND.] CROMWELL.

If 3| were possible that a crime of so deep a dye could admit of the slightest extenuation, it must be confessed that the subsequent exploits of Cromwell were calculated to weaken, if they could not obliterate, in the minds of the people, the remembrance of an act then unparalleled in the annals of mankind, and of which only one example could be produced in the history of ancient or modern Europe, in the person of Agis, of Lacedasmon, 300 years before the Christian sera. Having obtained the appointment of lorddeputy of Ireland, he crossed the sea, seized on all the towns which yet adhered to the royal cause, and did not leave the island till that unfortunate party was dispersed. In the following year he was summoned to Scotland, where Charles II. had been received as king by the covenanters, who refused obedience to the commonwealth of England, encountered the Scottish army at Dunbar, and, in a situation where every thing appeared to announce his own discomfiture, availed himself of an erroneous movement of the enemy, and on the 3d of September, 1651, gained the most signal victory which that age had witnessed. On the same day of the ensuing year, he again defeated the royal army at Worcester, reduced the young king to seek safety in a precipitate and dangerous flight, and in a few hours destroyed the last remaining hopes of the royalists.

The power and ambition of Cromwell were now too great to brook submission to the empty name of a republic, which maintained itself chiefly by his influence, and was supported by his victories. To his most intimate friends he began to disclose his aspiring views; and, it is said, he already expressed a desire of assuming the rank of king, which he had contributed, with such seeming zeal, to abolish. But the vigour and energy of the parliament, the success of their arms in Scotland and Ireland, and their naval victories over the Dutch, which gave them a

« AnteriorContinuar »